What do Germans think of the U.S. national team?
By Jeff Maurer
There's a Dennis Miller joke from a long time ago that includes the line: "Nobody finds Jesus on prom night." I think that applies here. The Frenchmen I spoke to last week were living with the fresh memory of France's disastrous performance at the World Cup. They had been humbled, and it was time for introspection. They knew that France had come back to the pack after the 2006 final, and they compared the U.S. team favorably to the French team several times.
The German soccer psyche is suffering no such crisis of confidence. And why should they be? They're coming out of a World Cup in which they won their group (again), spanked an England team that considers itself Germany's rival, spanked England's real rival (Argentina) even harder, and played some of the best soccer of the tournament. They made their third semifinal in a row and continued their remarkable streak of having made the final eight of every World Cup in which they've played. When your team is as efficient and well-built as the German one, there's not much need to pay attention to what's going on around you; you stand ready to take on all comers. Which I guess is why the German answer to the question "What do you think of the U.S. national team?" seemed to be: "We don't."
I conducted my rigorously scientific survey at Bayern Munich's 3-0 win over Hannover 96 at Allianz Arena. The first interviewee: Aziz, a Turk born in Yugoslavia who emigrated to Munich in 1966. Aziz showed me his 35-year Bayern membership card, which included a picture of him shaking hands with Franz Beckenbauer (can you imagine that in the U.S.? "Hey, I've been a Bulls fan for 35 years...I'd like my photo op with Michael Jordan now."). With my wife serving as translator, I asked Aziz for his thoughts about our team. Like most Germans I've met, Aziz was extremely friendly. Maybe too much so: I got the feeling that Aziz wouldn't have said anything negative if I had asked him for his thoughts on the ebola virus. About the U.S. team in general: a good team, and getting better. About the US-Germany game in 2002: U.S. played very well, and he was happy to see us do well. About the Sci-Fi Channel's Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus: an important cultural achievement, and a textured commentary on the duality of human nature (I made that one up). Seriously, though, next time they do one of those "what do foreigners think of the U.S.?" surveys, they should track this guy down.
The funny part came when I asked about Landon Donovan. Landon spent a few months at Bayern two seasons ago, and Aziz is a hardcore Bayern supporter. Aziz's thoughts on Landon? Doesn't remember him. I even put my hand on my forehead to recreate the universally-recognized Landon Donovan/Jack Nicholson hairline, but still nothing.
After the game, I went to the literal and figurative sausage fest that is the Bayern Fan Zone. It's exactly like the fan zones in the states, except that they sell -- believe it or not -- even more beer than we do. In fairness, just about any place you go over here -- laundromat, day care center, whatever -- also sells ridiculous amounts of beer, but the amount of lager being put away made me think that the real Germany-England rivalry is drinking, not soccer.
[Left to right: Alex, Tom, two guys who don't speak English, and a man who would like you to know that Schalke are (men who are too close to their mothers).]
I caught up with a couple of guys in the fan zone who were, let's say, doing their part to support local industry. Alex, 22, a student, and Tom, 30, who works for a telecommunications company, were the English speakers in the group, though they were joined by several rowdy friends, one of whose mastery of the English language seemed to consist of the phrase: "Schalke are (men who are too close to their mothers)!" They were very friendly and very positive on the U.S. in general, but when it came to the U.S. national team...I got the sense that the English word they were searching for was "meh". I had expected to get into a roiling debate about the Torsten Frings hand ball, but I had a hard time getting them to remember that GAME, much less that specific play. I pointed out that it was the World Cup quarterfinals, but Alex explained: "it is business as usual for us." It was a bit like going to your high school reunion ready to confront the cheerleader who dissed you only to find out that she has no idea who you are.
They knew a few American players, including Hannover's captain Steve Cherundolo (Tom: "An average player.") And Schalke '04's Jermaine Jones, who, it was conjectured, might be too close to his mother. Landon Donovan's name was greeted with a "ppppfffbbbbtttt!" that needed no translation. Tom was more diplomatic: "I think his skillset didn't translate well to Germany." Basically, Germany is giving Landon the "it's not you, it's me" speech.The French guys I spoke to last week felt that the U.S. would inevitably be a soccer power one day, but this group wasn't so sure. "Soccer is moving forward," said Alex, "but I think baseball or football will always be number one." I asked which they thought would happen first: the U.S. winning the World Cup, or time travel. The vote was unanimous: time travel (ouch). So I looked even further into the future: which happens first, I asked, a U.S. World Cup trophy, or Budweiser becomes the most popular beer in Germany? At this point, Alex was willing to admit that an American World Cup would come first. Tom, however captured his own opinion and the opinions of his German-speaking friends in one word: "Impossible".
The last stop in my what-do-Europeans-think-of-the-USMNT tour comes next week in the Netherlands. I don't speak any Dutch, but I plan to conduct the interview using my best Thomas Rongen accent.
Box Seats blogger
| October 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Jeff Maurer, United | Tags: D.C. United, Jeff Maurer
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